Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2019

Why Mercedes believe Ferrari’s soft tyre strategy is “risky”

2019 Austrian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Starting on soft tyres with those around him on mediums should give Charles Leclerc a strong chance of holding onto his lead at the start of the Austrian Grand Prix.

But will starting the rest on the softest available tyres backfire as temperatures are expected to soar even higher at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday?

With Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty having promoted Max Verstappen to the front row, the world championship leader is set to start the race from fourth position alongside team mate Valtteri Bottas. Team principal Toto Wolff believes they, like Verstappen, have done the right thing by choosing to start the race on the medium compound.

“I think that Ferrari [and] Charles starting on the soft is a risky strategy because it is either a two-stop if things go bad tomorrow or you are being very compromised towards the end of your first stint.

“Whereas Red Bull and Mercedes on the medium are in a better place in terms of the strategies that are available to us. So in some way I’d rather be on the medium than on soft.”

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Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2019
The Mercedes will start from the second row
Pirelli motorsport director Mario Isola agrees with Wolff up to a point. “For sure starting on medium is the strategy that is giving you the best flexibility for the race,” he said. But, Isola added, “Probably the soft because we have no graining is more usable compared to [at] Paul Ricard where the life of the soft was a mainly linked with the level of graining.”

Starting at the front, without the disturbing effect of another car ahead and able to dictate the race pace as he chooses, Leclerc should certainly have the best possible chance to make the strategy work. But as Isola noted if Leclerc can make his softs last for a stint at the beginning of the race, his rivals will take note of that.

“Without graining if we have a tyre life that is a decent tyre life probably in the range of 20, 25 laps it could be also an option to have medium at the beginning when the car is heavy and then finish the race with the soft.” Of course that would still leave Leclerc in the advantageous position of being the first of those to pit, therefore benefitting from the ‘undercut’.

Furthermore, it may simply be the case that the Ferrari is kinder to its tyres and can make them last longer. After all it was Mercedes who experienced problems with blistering at Paul Ricard.

Leclerc is convinced he’s on the right strategy. “We did some analysis after FP2, like every team does after the race simulation, and the soft looked pretty good so we are pretty happy with our strategy.”

The other worry for Mercedes is that, having been bumped back to the second row, their cars will now have to run in hotter air behind other cars. And this on a day when the track temperature is expected to exceed 60C.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2019
Verstappen’s bagged himself a front row start
The team has already had to make greater concessions to cooling give the high temperatures. Lewis Hamilton is concerned that the lengths drivers will have to go to in order to preserve their cars will not make for a riveting race.

“I’m going to have to really nurture the car this weekend,” he said on Thursday. “Which I don’t think is great for the fans in that element because the cars are too heavy, brakes are on the maximum limit. We should be being able to push flat-out.

“This is one of the races, it’s not going to be the same as Montreal, for example, where you can push the whole way. Montreal was cool because I could push the whole way, follow and be close, you won’t see that happen this weekend.

“There’ll be a lot of lift-and-coasting: 300 metres of lift-and-coasting. There’s only 10 corners so that’s a lot of lift-and-coasting. Although you can overtake, there’s more overtaking opportunity here, there’s a smaller delta. But having to cool your car, having to pull back from the car in front of you, might not be such a good thing. But I hope it’s still a good race.”

If Ferrari have got their strategy call right, it looks like being a very good race for Leclerc.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’04.1381’03.378 (-0.760)1’03.003 (-0.375)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’03.8181’03.803 (-0.015)1’03.262 (-0.541)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’03.8071’03.835 (+0.028)1’03.439 (-0.396)
4Valtteri BottasMercedes1’04.0841’03.863 (-0.221)1’03.537 (-0.326)
5Kevin MagnussenHaas1’04.7781’04.466 (-0.312)1’04.072 (-0.394)
6Lando NorrisMcLaren1’04.3611’04.211 (-0.150)1’04.099 (-0.112)
7Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’04.6151’04.056 (-0.559)1’04.166 (+0.110)
8Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’04.4501’04.194 (-0.256)1’04.179 (-0.015)
9Pierre GaslyRed Bull1’04.4121’03.988 (-0.424)1’04.199 (+0.211)
10Sebastian VettelFerrari1’04.3401’03.667 (-0.673)
11Romain GrosjeanHaas1’04.5521’04.490 (-0.062)
12Nico HulkenbergRenault1’04.7331’04.516 (-0.217)
13Alexander AlbonToro Rosso1’04.7081’04.665 (-0.043)
14Daniel RicciardoRenault1’04.6471’04.790 (+0.143)
15Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren1’04.4531’13.601 (+9.148)
16Sergio PerezRacing Point1’04.789
17Lance StrollRacing Point1’04.832
18Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’05.324
19George RussellWilliams1’05.904
20Robert KubicaWilliams1’06.206

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Charles Leclerc15.952 (1)27.961 (1)19.050 (1)
Lewis Hamilton16.071 (3)28.104 (2)19.087 (2)
Max Verstappen16.122 (5)28.175 (4)19.142 (4)
Valtteri Bottas16.099 (4)28.126 (3)19.137 (3)
Kevin Magnussen16.413 (18)28.350 (8)19.278 (5)
Lando Norris16.193 (10)28.386 (9)19.484 (10)
Kimi Raikkonen16.152 (7)28.282 (5)19.522 (11)
Antonio Giovinazzi16.130 (6)28.469 (10)19.404 (8)
Pierre Gasly16.160 (8)28.309 (7)19.455 (9)
Sebastian Vettel16.025 (2)28.308 (6)19.334 (6)
Romain Grosjean16.442 (19)28.473 (11)19.396 (7)
Nico Hulkenberg16.162 (9)28.532 (13)19.699 (14)
Alexander Albon16.268 (13)28.523 (12)19.751 (15)
Daniel Ricciardo16.206 (11)28.755 (18)19.686 (13)
Carlos Sainz Jnr16.218 (12)28.594 (16)19.608 (12)
Sergio Perez16.322 (15)28.563 (15)19.838 (17)
Lance Stroll16.298 (14)28.734 (17)19.800 (16)
Daniil Kvyat16.406 (17)28.561 (14)19.992 (18)
George Russell16.390 (16)29.306 (19)20.150 (20)
Robert Kubica16.715 (20)29.344 (20)20.140 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari325.7 (202.4)
2Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault322.6 (200.5)-3.1
3Alexander AlbonToro RossoHonda322.2 (200.2)-3.5
4Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari321.9 (200.0)-3.8
5Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari321.8 (200.0)-3.9
6Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari321.5 (199.8)-4.2
7Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault320.6 (199.2)-5.1
8Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes320.0 (198.8)-5.7
9Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault319.9 (198.8)-5.8
10Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes319.5 (198.5)-6.2
11Max VerstappenRed BullHonda319.0 (198.2)-6.7
12Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes319.0 (198.2)-6.7
13Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes318.7 (198.0)-7.0
14George RussellWilliamsMercedes318.4 (197.8)-7.3
15Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault317.8 (197.5)-7.9
16Pierre GaslyRed BullHonda316.8 (196.9)-8.9
17Robert KubicaWilliamsMercedes316.5 (196.7)-9.2
18Daniil KvyatToro RossoHonda315.4 (196.0)-10.3
19Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari314.2 (195.2)-11.5
20Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari310.5 (192.9)-15.2

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Lewis HamiltonMercedes100203
Valtteri BottasMercedes100203
Sebastian VettelFerrari101121
Charles LeclercFerrari101103
Max VerstappenRed Bull100113
Pierre GaslyRed Bull101004
Daniel RiccairdoRenault101014
Nico HulkenbergRenault101014
Kevin MagnussenHaas101004
Romain GrosjeanHaas101014
Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren102013
Lando NorrisMcLaren101004
Sergio PerezRacing Point101131
Lance StrollRacing Point101122
Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo101004
Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo101004
Daniil KvyatToro Rosso101032
Alexander AlbonToro Rosso102013
George RussellWilliams102022
Robert KubicaWilliams102013

Over to you

Will Leclerc avenge his lost Bahrain win? Could Max Verstappen score a second consecutive win at home for Red Bull? Or will Mercedes find a way to equal McLaren’s record run of 11 wins in a row?

Share your views on the Austrian Grand Prix in the comments.

2019 Austrian Grand Prix

Browse all 2019 Austrian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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15 comments on “Why Mercedes believe Ferrari’s soft tyre strategy is “risky””

  1. You better not have screwed this up Ferrari, I swear…

    1. Honestly, it wouldn’t be that surprising if they have.

      Too often over the last two years when Ferrari have been in a good position, it’s been thrown away by poor strategy calls, reliability issues or driver error.

      I wonder if they were expecting the other teams to set their Q2 laps on the softs too and now they’re stuck hoping for an early safety car or an inexplicable miracle.

  2. It’s certainly risky.

    It’s all going to depend how much life was taken out of the tyres in Qualifying, combined with how much he can get out of them in the race.
    He’s going to be quick, but it’s going to be a major problem if he has too pit to early -long before the medium runners- and comes out into traffic.

    On the other hand, an early safety car or VSC could work in his favor if it comes at the right time.

    Vettel is in a similar boat, also starting on the softs but also with the added factor of having to fight through traffic.

  3. Ferrari strategists at it again

    1. Hopefully they’ll be right at least for this one time!

  4. Leclerc should be in a strong position. He just has to stay out in front, nursing his tyres, then pit before anyone else, use the new tyres to bang in some good enough lap times to stay ahead of the medium-runners, and cruise home. Of course, the problem will be making the soft tyres last long enough for him to pit into clear air, and the length of the final stint. But the Ferrari seems to have such a pace advantage this weekend that it shouldn’t be too big a hassle.

    1. Depends how much nursing he has to do. If there’s a train behind him, pitting early will ruin his race.

      Looks like a fascinating race ahead.

    2. @kaiie Not that simple. The short track nature of the circuit means there always will be traffic all over the track. Leclerc best hope is he can stay longer than midfielders that also on soft tires so they trigger the pit train first, giving him a window to stop.

  5. So if the softs do wear quickly, actually Verstappen may, surprisingly, be in the best position? Red Bull pace strong enough to hold off the Mercs, I reckon. For once this season we might see a fight for the win. Count me excited.

  6. The variables in this race should make the GP more exciting to watch than last week. Once again after a GP which seemed like the world was ending, “The Hills Are Alive” once again…

  7. Rui (@colinmcrui)
    30th June 2019, 11:39

    Are the sector times the best of the three sessions? Must be, at least over the two laps in Q3, otherwise BOT would have qualified ahead of VER.

  8. You said Hamilton starts 4th, but I thought it’s 5th, as he has a 3 grid place penalty.

    1. He’s starting 4th as K MAG has a five place grid penalty hence nobody above him except Ham who has 3, has a grid penalty. Chain bear f1 in YouTube has explained it well enough to understand.

      1. Thanks for the explanation. I think I understand it now, but I don’t think I could explain it well to someone else. haha

Comments are closed.